The Labour Party seems to be in disarray at the moment. Despite an unpopular government delivering painful austerity measures, Labour has seen its opinion poll lead being slashed. Its leader, Ed Miliband, is being criticised by his own veteran MPs on one hand, and is not seen by the public as prime minister material on the other. Labour is struggling to get over its message and with its recent acceptance that it must match the government’s spending plans if it is elected, you begin to wonder what is the point of the party at all. It is at best centrist, some might say centre-right, so anyone who wishes to vote for a party that is on the left of British politics can forget about Labour.

I was once a member of the Labour Party, and I joined the Green Party primarily for two reasons. Firstly I feel that unless we address the climate crisis any other issues will be irrelevant because within the next century (maybe sooner) we will have an uninhabitable planet for humankind. The Green Party is the only party that properly addresses that. Secondly I believe that social justice has to be part of the change we need to address the environmental crisis that we face. I once felt that Labour stood for social justice but with its steady move to the right it no longer realistically represents the most vulnerable people in society, nor the class it was created for.

Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett and Andy

Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett with Andy at an event in Leeds

The current incarnation of the Labour Party is a shambolic disgrace, and the Green Party is the only real alternative for those people who wish to vote for social justice. Although it irritates and worries some of the Green Party veterans, that is the reason many Green Party members who joined in recent years are ex-Labour.

Now despite the turmoil Labour currently faces, due to our country’s electoral system, media, political funding etcetera, it will always be a massive task to enlighten people to the fact there is a tangible alternative to Labour if you want something different from the same old same old. The difficulty Labour faces at this moment in time maybe seen as an opportunity for the Green Party, but to be doing things right we should be hammering away at them all the time. That is why I wrote and moved the Leeds Green Party Strategy document which attempted to strengthen all the areas we need to in order to mount a stronger and more sustained challenge – increase party funds, increase membership, increase activists, raise the party profile, improve our media communications etc. all things that will help us get our message across to more people, and help us target more wards. We need more people to spread the word in order to attract more people to the party. We don’t yet have enough activists. That is a problem, and one we must address. People have busy lives and we have to be grateful for whatever contribution they make. The key is better organisation of what resources we have, and utilising them in the best way possible. The trouble is that organisation is not seen as very exciting.

One of my dreams would be that at all the wards in Leeds (but at the very least all the solid Labour wards) received one of our leaflets which highlights our key national policies with a Leeds slant, and the hard work of our councillors in Farnley & Wortley. This would mean that many more people would (a) know we exist (b) know something of what we stand for, and (c) might see us as worth a try given they have been badly let down by Labour. But it is but a dream. Just targeting predominately Labour wards with such a leaflet would run to over £4,000, not to mention trying to find the people to deliver it. One leaflet will not make a huge impact, it takes constant leafleting work and regular canvassing to turn a ward into a viable target, but it would make people more aware of us and maybe bring in some new members.

There must be a mixed approach. Campaigning on national issues is important to ensure people learn what we stand for. We also need to do some “bread and butter” local issues that affect people on a daily basis, and show that electing Green councillors makes a difference and unlike Labour we never take our constituents’ votes for granted.

Last week’s announcement about the research commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) on energy companies’ profits in the UK highlights not only the scandal of rising energy bills, but exposes the myth that privatisation brings benefits to the average householder. In the 1980s Mrs Thatcher’s government told us that ending state monopolies through privatisation would give consumers greater choice through competition, and the subsequent competition would result in better service and lower prices as suppliers fought for our business. The figures published last week seem to suggest otherwise. Indeed while ordinary people have seen a huge leap in domestic electricity and gas prices it seems that shareholders have been enjoying the benefits of ever bigger profits.

The LGA research shows the biggest suppliers increased their dividend payouts to shareholders by £257m last year, revealing that altogether the six biggest companies paid £1.635bn in dividends – a 19% increase on the 2006 total of £1.378bn. According to the research by consultants SQW, Centrica increased its dividend payout from £409m to £478m, EDF from £105m to £110m, RWE Npower from £37m to £250m, and Scottish and Southern Energy from £400m to £474m. My current fuel supplier (who sent me a letter about increased prices which arrived today), E.ON, paid no dividend in 2006, but paid out £240m in 2007. Scottish Power was the only one of the “big six” to cut its dividend payout with a reduction from £427m to £83m. The bumper payouts come as the average household fuel bill has soared by 42 per cent since January and it questions suppliers’ claims that they needed to maintain high prices to invest in new forms of energy for the future.

While Gordon Brown and his ministers work this week on measures to ease the pressure on families from increasing bills, it seems that the government has now decided against a one-off windfall tax on the suppliers. However the LGA wants the government to require the energy companies to finance a national home insulation programme to the tune of £500m-a-year for the next five years. “This would allow the energy firms to continue being profitable and provide the best long-term solution to cutting carbon emissions and fighting fuel poverty,” Sir Jeremy Beecham, the acting chairman of the LGA said. “There are 10 million homes in this country that still lack basic insulation. Making these properties more energy efficient would knock £2bn off fuel bills each and every year and also slash domestic household carbon emissions by a fifth. The government and Ofgem [the regulator] should seize the opportunity to take a long-term solution to encourage the energy companies to use their disproportionate dividend payments for a massive drive to insulate people’s homes.” Quite right.

Understandably there is anger at these rises especially in the climate of “inflation-busting” low annual pay awards. Public services union Unison said: ‘At a time when some people are considering whether to heat their homes or put food on the table, this is going to seem very unfair.’ Gordon Lishman, the Director General of the charity Age Concern, believes that the scale of the dividend payouts would anger elderly people struggling to pay their heating bills. He claimed: “Many of the poorest pensioners will be outraged that, whilst they are worrying about how to afford to heat their homes, energy companies continue to make significant profits and pay their shareholders increased dividends”.

The tragedy of the “selling the family silver” privatisation policies of the Thatcherite Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s has been compounded by the current Labour Government’s alignment with the needs of big business rather than the needs of ordinary working people. If it has any hope of obtaining a fourth General Election victory, and saving the country from the horror of the Conservatives, then Labour has to get back to its roots. Reassociate itself with the people the party was formed to represent, and fight for improving the economic and social conditions of Britain’s poorest and neediest members of society and not ritually kowtowing to big business.

[Based on reports in The Guardian, and Metro newspapers]